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voyage of discovery

Sea Cadets Kerry Monaghan, Abby Fairchild and Olivia Wilcox arrive back to Mount Sinai Aug. 27. Photo by Alex Petroski

Nine days on the open seas traveling about 800 miles with complete strangers might sound like a punishment to most, but for six teenage young women it was a voyage that fostered personal growth and new friendships, and even blazed a trail for others.

On Aug. 18, six U.S. Naval Sea Cadets — all young women between 14 and 17 years old — set sail from Mount Sinai Harbor on a training voyage aimed at teaching them the rigors of seamanship and leadership. The Naval Sea Cadet Corps was founded in 1958 at the request of the U.S. Navy meant to serve as a youth development program for those interested in pursuing a future in the United States Armed Forces. The cadets were joined on the trip by three adults — officers of the East Moriches-based Theodore Roosevelt Division of the Sea Cadets Lt. Robert Garceau and Lt. j.g. Nereida Gonzalez, as well as Capt. Roger Noakes, whose personal vessel was used for the voyage, as it has been for similar training missions for the last four years. This voyage was unique in one specific way, however: it was the first time it was made with a crew of all female cadets, an idea brought to fruition thanks to one of them.

“I go to different divisions and speak to the cadets about the trainings, and so the chief came to me and said, ‘How come you don’t have an all-female [training journey]?’” said Garceau upon returning to Mount Sinai Yacht Club Aug. 27 following the excursion, referring to Chief Petty Officer Kerry Monaghan, 17, an Islip native who has been in the Sea Cadets program for four years. Garceau explained there were logistical concerns about the tight quarters on Noakes’ 38-foot sailboat — the Nada — and creating enough space for privacy for the female cadets and the male lieutenant and captain who would be on the trip. The lieutenant said he spoke to some of the women in his division, ran the request up the chain of command and eventually got the idea greenlit.

“I love the fact that she came to me and said something, brought it to my attention, and I discussed it with the captain and discussed it with cadets, my female cadets, to see who was interested,” he said. He and Noakes spent the nine days sleeping on the deck of the Nada, exposed to the elements, to ensure the cadets were given proper quarters. “It was rainy, wet, you’re out in the weather, but to make it happen that’s the sacrifices we had to do, and it was very well worth it. We will just expand it from here.”

Noakes, a South Setauket resident, has been offering up his personal vessel and time for this use as part of his nonprofit organization Sailing Nada Adventures, an initiative Garceau referred to as “beyond fantastic.” The Nada has its own interesting history, as it was built by author Nigel Calder, who was renowned as a sailing guru, according to Noakes. Noakes said he found the “missing” boat in Port Jefferson in 2010 with a different name, and through some research determined it was the Nada. After some restoration efforts, the vessel returned to the water to take students on voyages of discovery east from Mount Sinai and north to the Gulf of Maine.

“We wanted to use her for the betterment of anyone who encountered her,” he said of the boat. “We’re particularly focused on adolescent youth, to help build their confidence and take them into an environment which is something completely different than they probably have ever experienced before and show them that not only can they cope with them, but they can thrive.”

“We were just a group of girls who saw this training and we were like, ‘Yeah, I want to do that too,’ and why shouldn’t we? I think that would be great if some girl saw this and said, ‘Yeah I want to be a sailor, I want to join Sea Cadets.’”

— Kerry Monaghan

Mission accomplished, according to the cadets who were on board.

“Being out on this trip was truly an amazing experience, because you got to feel the rough seas, and you also got to feel the nice seas,” said Olivia Wilcox, 15, a Shoreham resident who has been in the program since February. “We got a lot of good lessons from really inspiring people.”

She said she joined the program because she hopes to attend college at either West Point or Annapolis military academies, and one day work in Army Intelligence. Although, she said during one of the five stops on the trip in Provincetown, Massachusetts, after visiting a U.S. Coast Guard Station, several of the cadets decided the Coast Guard might be the way to go.

The trip got off to an inauspicious start, with weather taking a turn for the worse early on, at one point sending the Nada in reverse due to headwinds and rough waves, according to Garceau, a Mount Sinai native who has since relocated to Pennsylvania.

“Right off the bat you’re supposed to be learning everything as we go, and this kind of put a damper on that because everybody was sick,” he said. “It made it difficult that way. They pushed through it, they wanted to continue, and we did.”

Erika Mattschull, 16, of East Northport, said she joined the Sea Cadets because she comes from a military family, making her fifth or sixth generation in her family to purse a life of military service. She reflected on what the all-female cadets trip might do to impact other girls like her.

“It would mean a lot to me if more people found out about the Sea Cadets, especially females, because then more trainings like this would probably open up, so it would really be good,” she said. “It was definitely a great experience, I’ll remember it forever.”

Monaghan, who celebrated her 17th birthday on the voyage, also reflected on the idea of serving as a role model for younger girls.

“I would be honored,” she said. “That’s crazy, I mean, we were just a group of girls who saw this training and we were like, ‘Yeah, I want to do that too,’ and why shouldn’t we? I think that would be great if some girl saw this and said, ‘Yeah I want to be a sailor, I want to join Sea Cadets.’”

Sea Cadets Erika Mattschull, Olivia Zhang and Natalie Puello arrive back to Mount Sinai Aug. 27. Photo by Alex Petroski

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